This text set explores the theme of adolescent characters living in captivity. The novel choices include settings in which the captivity was enforced upon the adolescent by strangers, authority figures and family members, for reasons varied to include deviant sexual pleasure, religious exclusion from society, and custody debates among biological parents. The greatest difference in the captive scenarios presented in this literature is the contrast between characters who adapt to their enforced environment and those who struggle endlessly to gain freedom.

Bibliography Information

Genre

Description

Thoughts / Connections / Questions
Scott, E. (2009). Living Dead Girl; New York: Simon Pulse.
YA
(high school)
At ten years old, Alice was kidnapped by Ray. Now, at fifteen, she fears that she can no longer convince him that she is still the little girl he once stole. She sees her best hope of survival as helping to abduct a new little girl and teaching her how to take her place as Ray’s sex slave. Alice, ironically gains more freedom than she has had since with Ray as she spends her days planning which young girl to kidnap from a local playground. The novel ultimately ends with Alice having to make a choice between her freedom or that of Ray’s new target.
This was my assigned reading for the first Capstone meeting. The night I began to read it, I did not set the book down until two hours later when I had finished. The character development creates a psychological conflict in which the reader is expected to pity Ray because of the life circumstances that made him this monster. Then, the psychological character development becomes even more twisted as the reader follows Alice’s thoughts about abducting a young girl to take her place. There is also the common thread of trying to understand why Alice never seeks help when able and questioning how Ray is able to hold so much power over her.
Duggard, J. (2011). A Stolen Life: A Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Non-fiction (Memoir)
At eleven years old, Jaycee is kidnapped and kept captive for more than eighteen years in a dilapidated shack in the backyard of her captive’s mother’s home. She is first restrained and held prisoner in a room with little more than a mattress and a bucket. Over the years she befriends her captor’s wife although she has two daughters fathered by him. Jaycee becomes an important partner in his printing business for which she has constant telephone, and sometimes in-person contact, with customers. It is not until she is questioned by the FBI for her captor’s zealous religious beliefs that suspicions about her origins to the family are questioned.
As I was reading the previous novel, I often thought of bits of this story that I had heard in the news. While reading Jaycee’s memoir, it was so reminiscent of the previous novel that I often confused what happened with the fictional character versus in this narrative. Jaycee provides a good psychological narrative exploring her needs to keep her captors happy, and also explores her own mindset in not seeking help to escape when the opportunities were present. It is written in the style of someone collecting their own memories and as such not always a fluid read. Large spans of time are not discussed and details are often overlooked in a way that a fictional writer could easily create the events that a memoirist cannot or wishes not to reveal.
Donoghue, E. (2011), Room. New York: Back Bay Books
Fiction
The story is told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, who is the son of the man that kidnapped his mother from her college parking lot when she was nineteen. His mother goes to great extents to educate and entertain Jack in their small, but highly-technologically secure, toolshed. To Jack, “Room” is the world and it comes as a shock to him when his mother decides that he must leave the room to go out into the greater world in order to save their lives. Once freed though, it is Jack’s mother who has the greater difficulty adjusting to a life of freedom.
Another great example of psychological character development, the reader is able to easily connect with the five-year old protagonist and see the limited world in which he lives. The novel is written so well that I found myself checking the cover jacket several times to be reassured that it was actually fiction. This differs from previous literature in that the captive child does not even know that he is a prisoner. The fear that fills him upon learning that he must go beyond the room is tangible. Greatly unique is seeing the mother’s inabilities to readjust through his young eyes.
Wall, E. (2008). Stolen Innocence. New York: Harper Collins.
Nonfiction (Memoir)
At fourteen years old, Elissa Wall was forced into marrying her nineteen year old cousin by the controversial former FLDS prophet, Warren Jeffs. Having been raised within the LDS in a polygamous family, Elissa knew that she did not want to be in this church or in the marriage. The novel spans the three years of Elissa’s marriage before leaving both her husband and church.
This topic, as well as this book, are controversial. The blogs are alight with as many people supporting Elissa’s story as those trying to discredit it. The confines of captivity here, to me, were not so much in the arranged marriage as in what Elissa felt were “walls” built by her religion. She acquiesced to decisions for fear of being rejected by the church and losing her family if she did not. The confusion of understanding how to gain freedom when presented with multiple opportunities mirrors that of previous kidnap narratives.
Yolen, J. & Coville, B. (1999). Armageddon Summer. Boston: Graphia
YA
(middle/ high school)
After Jed’s mother abandoned their family, his father finds comfort in church. Jed is skeptical of Reverend Beelson’s apocalyptic views and does not hide his sarcasm when drug to the fenced compound on a mountain top to wait for the end of the world. Marina, on the other hand, like her mother, is a believer, and hopes her strong faith will reunite her family when her mother leaves her father to take the children to Reverend Beelson’s compound. Although they greatly differ in their beliefs and attitudes towards their newfound captivity, Jed and Marina engage in romance that does witness an Armageddon setting, though created by conflict between those not allowed to enter the compound and those hoping to be among the “chosen.”
The relationship between religion and captivity in this narrative is obvious. The two main characters, stereo-typical adolescents opposite in every way but bound to be attracted to one another, are forced to leave their homes and friends to move to the mountain top. They literally become imprisoned when the compound is surrounded by fencing and security guards are posted at the entrance. The families aren’t kept in this state for a long enough time period to explore their response to captivity. Present, however, is a common thread of enduring such situations for the sake of a loved one. Although engaging, the plot is rather shallow and predictable.
Lowry, L. (2011). Number the Stars. London: Sandpiper.
Children / YA (middle school)
During World War II, the German troops occupy Denmark and make plans to send all Jewish residents to concentration camps. Jewish sympathizers though make arrangements to sneak Jewish families away from Denmark and save them from that fate. The story follows the friendship of Ellen, a young Jewish girl and Annemarie, whose family risks imprisonment to sneak Jewish families out of Denmark.
It seemed remiss to look at the relationship between religion and captivity as this text set led to without considered the holocaust. Written for a much younger audience this novel does not offer any specific details about that time. The families are held “captive” as is all of Denmark by German occupation. This is a very quick read and offers an interesting view of this time period in an uncommon setting. The fear of the young girls as they encounter the soldiers stationed around town and that of the mother on the night of helping their Jewish friends escaped is well-written and tangible.
Pfeffer, S. (1996). Twice Taken. Madison: Demco Media
YA
(high school)
While babysitting, Amy sees an episode of the television show about missing children and recognizes the father being described as her own. Before thinking through the severity of the situation, curiosity leads her to call the hotline, which leads to her being removed from her father’s home and being returned to the mother from whom, unbeknownst to her, she was abducted eleven years earlier during a weekend visit. Amy struggles to understand her role in a house of strangers that she is now supposed to consider family, following a reunion she wish had never happened.
The interesting twist to this novel is that Amy was raised in the home of a loving single father, never knowing that she was abducted until seeing her modeled image on a random television show. She remembers bits and pieces of her previous life, although at five years old, it would seem that she would have a more solid memory of the change in living circumstances. Unique in this novel is the readjustment she is expected to make effortlessly into a family of strangers that even call her by a different name. Ironically, the traits of captivity found in the other novels reveal themselves here when the character has actually gained freedom.
McMahon, J. (2008). Island of Lost Girls. New York: Harper Paperbacks
Fiction
On her way to a job interview, Rhonda stops at a gas station and witnesses a young girl kidnapped by a large rabbit, or rather an adult in a rabbit costume. Rhonda joins the town’s efforts to find the abducted child, only to be considered a suspect by many herself, because she did nothing to stop the crime. The conflicting emotions surrounding being involved in rescue efforts leads Rhonda to remember her own childhood when a young friend was also abducted. In an effort to uncover clues about the current caper, Rhonda finds out the details to rewrite the entire narrative of what happen during her own childhood.
This novel completely changed the perspective of looking at characters in captivity. Rather than discovering the details of either abducted child, the reader explores the emotions involved with those who are “left behind.” Rhonda struggles to overlook any details that the man she loves may have been guilty of the crime just as she struggles to repress any memory of family members being involved in the abduction of her best friend. Arguments arise between characters who are “overly” interested in helping find the missing girl with those who think there is something twisted in their interest in the case. When a situation like this happens, people often want the attention of being associated with the tragedy. It is that very trait in this novel that leads to the crime in the first place.
Cooney, C. (1996). The Face on the Milk Carton. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
YA (middle/ high school)
One day at lunch Jennie Spring recognizes the image of the missing child on her friend’s milk carton as her own. She rummages through her family’s attic to find clues and discovers not only many confusing artifacts but the very dress that she was wearing in the picture of the abducted little girl, confirming to Jennie her identity. When she confronts her parents, Jennie is told they she was brought to their home by their daughter who dropped Jennie off before returning to her cult life. The family overlooked clues that Jennie was actually abducted by their daughter and changed the whole family’s identity to protect her from the cult. Jennie researched the story of her abduction and after sharing the facts with her “parents,” they encourage her to contact the family from which she was taken.
This novel is similar to Twice Taken in that follows the discovery of a young girl that her identity is false, and that she has been abducted into the family in which she lives. A common theme between the two is a love for the family member(s) with which she currently resides that is made difficult by a confused sense of loyalty to her previous family. The development of the plot in this novel becomes more interesting with the conflict Jennie feels between wanting to believe the story she has been told and still wanting to learn more. Identity, more than captivity, is the uniting theme between these two novels. In both cases, the main detriment to discovering they were victims of abductions is both girls learning that their entire identity, including their name, is false. Explored is the idea of who much of the life we are born into determines our identity.
Andrews, V. (2005). Flowers in the Attic. Phoenix: Gallery Books

Cathy Dollanganger and her three siblings are taken to live with her grandparents following the death of her father. The children’s mother agrees to the grandmother’s rule to hide them in the attic so the grandfather will not discover they exist. The mother’s visits to the attic become less frequent and the older siblings develop a parental role towards the younger ones and a physical relationship with one another. The children endure years of the grandmother’s abuse before escaping to avoid being poisoned to death.
The descriptions of physical abuse make this a difficult read. Much controversy has also arose from the repeated theme of incest, from the children being a product of an uncle/niece union, to the two siblings engaging in sexual intimacy. This novel interestingly combines themes from previous literature in the text set in that you have a “true” captivity narrative with children who are imprisoned, neglected, abused, and with one sibling killed. However, in this exploration of family relationships, unlike previous narratives, the torture is dealt from family members. The novel evolves from adapting to a captive life to fighting for escape and survival.
Andrews, V. (2005). Petals in the Wind. Phoenix: Gallery Books

In this sequel to Flowers in the Attic, the three siblings have escaped their mother’s imprisonment and are parented by a lonely doctor and widower. Although the youngest sibling is deformed from the mother’s poisoning attempts, Chris and Cathy struggle to lead functional lives and ignore their continued incestual attraction. Cathy endures a string of problematic relationships from the doctor who becomes their father figure to an abusive husband, to her mother’s new husband, as part of her plot to seek revenge on her mother for the children’s imprisonment and torture, before deciding to change her identity and accept the love of her brother in the role of her husband.
The theme of captivity is obviously greatly weaker than its predecessor. It could be argued that Cathy is held captive by her abusive husband who wishes to break her family bonds with Chris. More important, however, is understanding the long-lasting effect of the three years locked in an attic on all three children. The youngest still seeks her mother’s affection and poisons herself when she is again rejected. Chris cannot emotionally evolve beyond his romantic feelings for Cathy birthed in that captive state. Cathy, the most affected, is unable to even seek any kind of fulfilling life for herself as she is fueled by the need for revenge against her mother. Although physically free, the emotions and behaviors of all three children still mirror those displayed when imprisoned in the attic.
Pelzer, D. (1995). A Child Called It. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.
Nonfiction (Memoir)
Pelzer tells of a childhood in which he is daily tortured by an alcoholic mother. She was a Cub Scout Den mother but spent afternoons on the couch in her robe yelling at Dave and his brothers. The degree of abuse progresses from verbal to physical to sadistic torture. The young boy sleeps on an army cot in the basement and eats from the garbage at school. He is burned and stabbed by his mother and once chained to the toilet and left to inhale the toxic fumes of ammonia mixed with bleach. A perceptive teacher becomes concerned and a social worker rescues Dave from his barbaric living conditions.
The ideas of abuse and captivity enforced by a mother in Andrew’s novels reminded me of this story and I wanted to move back to nonfiction. As with Jaycee Duggar’s story, the knowing that a piece of literature detailing such horrific abuse is nonfiction makes the reading much more difficult. However, much like Elissa Wall’s narrative, there is also controversy surrounding the validity of the memoirs. Two of Pelzer’s brothers debate most of what is said, while a third brother concurs with the history and proposes that he became the family victim following Dave’s departure. So many unanswered questions- the father was in the home but emotionally detached from the whole situation? Why was only Dave removed from the home? Like previous captive novels, this explores the conflict of not seeking escape when opportunities were presented and explores the psychological power of the abuser over the victim. Not only was Dave a prisoner within his own home, physically, he was also victimized into believing it was a prison he could not escape (amplified here by young age).
Pelzer, D. (1997). The Lost Boy. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.
Nonfiction (Memoir)
In this sequel, Dave describes trying to adjust to life in a series of foster homes after being removed from the custody of his abused mother. His journey begins in a home for mentally challenged children and his inability to adapt to normal social interactions is immediately evident. After spending time in juvenile hall, Dave is moved through a series of foster homes until he finishes high school and joins the Air Force. His life intersects with his mother on several occasions during which she reacts to him in a cold or manipulative manner, so he seeks to replace that need for parental approval with relationships from other adults in his life including teachers and counselors.
Similar to the sequel to Flowers in the Attic, in this novel Pelzer struggles to adjust to a “normal” life in society after being freed from his mother’s abusive imprisonment. A theme becoming evident through both the fiction and nonfiction captivity narratives is that being removed from society for any length of time makes it difficult then to maintain the skills to create bonds with people once reintroduced to “normal” life. A lack of trust in human nature and just the absence of daily interactions, at least functional ones, are likely what contribute to this. Reiterated in this novel is the conflict of physical versus mental/emotional freedom. Although no longer physically held captive or abused, Pelzer suffers long-term side effects from his time being tortured that affect his daily life.
Collins, S. (2010). The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press.
YA (middle / high school)
In a post-apocalyptic world, the United States has been divided into districts and each year two adolescents are selected by lottery from each district to compete in a televised battle to death. Katniss volunteers to enter the games when the name of her younger sister is drawn. After receiving a make-over and worthless mentoring, Katniss is paraded before her televised audience and sent into the enclosed arena to be killed or the last player remaining alive. She makes an alliance with Peetra, who although from a wealthier family than Katniss, has secretly loved her back in their village. The two feign a romantic interest to gain the favor, and gifts, of viewers. When all their opponents have been killed, Katniss and Peetra threaten suicide until both declared victors for the Hunger Games.
By definition, this is fits the definition of this text set. You have two adolescents. They are forced into an enclosed arena from which they cannot escape. They struggle for survival and suffer much abuse and are nearly killed. It is likely the extreme parameters of that survival struggle that makes the plot development of this novel seem less like the others. There is much more focus on physical survival than the psychological response to being held captive. Of course, all other novels have a sense of believability to them, fiction or not, while the setting for this one is pure fantasy. Although Katniss dearly misses her mother and sister, the relationship that Is explored more is her reliance on Peetra, for whom she has conflicting feelings, which are only amplified under these isolated living conditions.
Riggs, R. (2011). Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Philidelphia: Quirk Books
YA (middle / high school)
Jacob is unable to psychologically recover from the “peculiar” details he witnessed at his grandfather’s death, specifically the strange man watching from afar as tentacles crawled from his mouth. While a young boy, Jacob had heard many stories from his grandfather about the orphanage to which he was sent when the Germans began taking Jewish children during the war. Accompanying these stories was a box filled with “peculiar” photos: an invisible boy, a levitating girl. As his grandfather is rasping for his last breaths he gives Jacob a cryptic message that sends him back to Wales to investigate the orphanage of his grandfather’s childhood. Jacob is discouraged to see the orphanage, bombed during the war many decades earlier, had decayed to ruins. Villagers also tell him that all children, but one, were killed during the bomb attack also. However, Jacob finds a secret tunnel in the bog that leads him an alternate world where the orphanage is still very much functional and all the “peculiar” children of his grandfather’s tales are exactly as described.
Children that were considered outcasts of society due to oddities, whether perceived as handicaps or supernatural powers, are sent to live in an orphanage secluded from town by a thick bog and tall mountain on a remote island in Wales. Included among these orphans are Jewish children being shipped away from their families during World War II in hopes that seclusion would mean safety. This novel, although not by the conventional definition, should have provided some connection to the previous literature of adolescents being held captive. What the plot presents instead is a supernatural setting in which the group of “peculiar” children, including one with a mouth on the back of her head and another that can create a ball of fire in her hands, are stuck in a loop of time where they repeat the events of the same day endlessly. It cannot even be argued that they are prisoners in that alternate universe because they are able to freely move between the modern society where Jacob is discovered to the same community in the 1940’s shortly after his grandfather would have left the orphanage. Although a creative plot, enhanced by an eccentric collection of photos to match the narrative, it fails to offer further conversation to the themes of this text set.

Back to Text Sets Shared by Teachers